Because of August

It’s late on the Tuesday after Labor Day when I finally get around to writing this. I’ve had thoughts and words knocking on my door, begging to come out of me since Sunday night, but haven’t much time to sit down and write.

It’s the second September that I am working as a counselor and am not frantically trying to figure out how to fit in working two jobs, having an internship, going to school, and somehow trying to maintain all of my sanity and an ounce of a social life. It’s also the first Tuesday since summer started that I’ve been alone, and the first Tuesday in years that I haven’t had some sort of obligation — work, class, or babysitting.

I say babysitting for lack of a better word. Babysitting just seems too formal for the time I got to spend over the last five years watching my best friends son grow up. I spent nearly every Tuesday watching and hanging out with her son, and I spent every Tuesday the last few summers with both him and my little sister.

My sister turned 13 on Friday and started her first day of 8th grade today. My friends son starts kindergarten later this week. And here I am, on my first free Tuesday, virtually ever, trying to hang onto fragments of time that seemed to have blown right past me. It seems that all I had to do was blink and I suddenly found myself in this very moment.

But first, back to Sunday.

I was baking cupcakes late on Sunday night for a Labor Day get-together. At some point, I ran outside to take out the trash. And in the minute trek from my apartment to the dumpster, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sound of kids playing and laughing. It was odd to me. I’ve lived in this apartment for nearly a year and have never heard kids playing outside any later than sunset. And here I was at 11 pm on a Sunday night, listening to the genuine belly laughs of little kids. The sound tugged at my heartstrings a bit when I realized that it must have been their last night of summer vacation. After Labor Day, it would be back to school for them.

I thought to myself they had to have been hanging onto these few precious moments they had left. They had to have been savoring every last bit of their time away from school before the summer sun sets and they’re awoken by the bitter taste of the transition into the next school year.

. . .

I was talking to a friend in the end of July about how certain times of year are more difficult than others for everyone. We were on the topics of breakups, and how, even years later, there are traces of our ex’s that still linger in us. And it got us on the topic of big life events that shape us and change us and make certain months a little more difficult than others to get through. For many people, the holidays are the worst. For me, it’s always been summer into fall — August into September.

Now, I never intended on being the kind of person that stores all of these bad memories in some sort of self-deprecating bank, just to pull out and revisit when I’m already feeling low. I don’t think anyone really ever sets out to be like that. But, I do genuinely believe there are certain times of the year for everyone where you feel a little bit thrown off course, like the stars aren’t really aligned, and somehow, you are living in a paradoxical world, unbalanced, and propelled back to this ugly state of nostalgia.

There’s something about the way August nonchalantly makes an Irish exit and dances her way into September that has me gripping onto the edge of my seat, eyes staring straight ahead, just waiting for the exact moment when it all comes crashing down.

The time between August and September is notorious for transitions. It’s always been about the start of something new and the beginning of something else ending. Ever since kindergarten, we are conditioned to know that August into September is about change. August has been about starting my first job at 15. It was about packing up my life into boxes bigger than me and leaving my hometown for college for the very first time. It was in August that I started to see cracks in what I thought was love. And it was also in August that I began the long-drawn out goodbye from the only thing I ever knew as love. It was about walking away from old jobs and settling into a new chapter of my career. It was about signing my first lease and getting ready to move out on my own. It was about struggling with anxiety over losing people who meant more to me than I would ever let myself verbalize. It was about feeling like a stranger in my own home, and even more so in my own skin. It was about trying to find even an ounce of hope in all of the rubble — trying to find some sort of stable ground to walk on when the rest of the world around me kept on turning and moving and changing.

August has always been notorious for transitions.

Last August brought with it a season in my life that I would love to not remember. It’s hard, I think, looking back on a time that you’d rather forget. If the doctor could write me a prescription to erase a few months off the calendar, then I would run straight to the pharmacy. Last August was a whirlwind. While the big parts of my life were falling together, the foundation of my life was falling apart. I had recently graduated with my Master’s and flew straight into my career. I was doing well on paper — much better than all of my classmates. But there were still jagged pieces of my life sticking out. Things weren’t as smooth as I had hoped they’d be.

I remember putting all of my energy into work, and into the relationships I had with people, that I started to neglect myself. I avoided going home, because nothing about walking through those front doors ever made it feel like it was actually home. I drove around every night after work, desperate for company, and if I didn’t have someone who would meet me for coffee or a late night appetizer, I remember turning the volume up to the highest it could go, without making my car sound like a crappy teen club, and blasting every sad song on my iPod. I remember circling empty parking lots and driving on old roads that used to mean something to me. I remember pulling over to park every time my eyes welled up and cursing the sky above me. I never asked for this. I never wanted this. I never understood how you can get all of the things you worked so hard for and still not everything in your life aligned in quite the same way. The universe is funny that way, isn’t it? It pushes you without ever really trying.

The truth is, August has always been a little bit of a fight to be enough.

It’s always been a fight to simply be enough for whatever major event was about to tornado its’ way through my life. It was the fight to leave enough of me when I was leaving for college, in the hopes that the people I was leaving behind would pick up the pieces of me and hang onto them when I came back home. It was the fight for me to be the person deserving of some big old profession of love that I never did get. It was me hanging onto a love that hurt more often than not, because somehow that was enough for me. It was me trying to live in a house that wasn’t anymore welcoming then than it was when I was a rebellious teenager. It’s been about me trying to learn what being enough really is all about.

. . .

It’s important to know that I have never been good at transitions, and the foreseeable future doesn’t present itself with an opportunity to suddenly become more graceful at them. I almost pride myself on my inability to move on from things and my ability to catastrophize even the most minor of things. I make a mountain out of a mole hill when I can. I spend nights crippled in fear that I said the wrong thing to someone and that they’re going to hold it against me forever. I hear a song and I’m right back to my old bedroom at my parents house, making empty plans for forever. I feel a tinge of loneliness and I remember what it was like last August for me. And I remember all the things I’ve been bad at transitioning into: high school, college, the year and a half I took off between college and grad school, transitioning back into grad school, life post-grad school, moving out, breakups and makeups and everything else in between.

But as I sat on my couch this morning, feeling a bit lost at having nothing to do for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, I was struck by how starkly different my life is this time of year in comparison to last year. I no longer drive around aimlessly, seeking answers for questions I would never ask aloud, on the dark road and in empty parking lots. I’ve moved. I’ve settled down a bit. I’ve been at the same job for almost a year and a half. I’m learning to be comfortable with stillness. I’ve hurt, and I’ve grown, and I’ve loved. But more than anything, I am so much different than I was this time last year.

. . .

I haven’t stopped thinking about those kids since Sunday night. I haven’t stopped thinking about the carefree sound of their laughs and how effortless it sounded — like they weren’t about to embark on the next transition in their lives: entering a new grade in school.  And I was thinking this morning about my sister starting 8th grade and how she was born the day before I started high school, and just how difficult that transition was for me. I thought about going off to college and leaving my then three-year-old sister at home. I thought about how much she’s grown. How she used to be shorter than me and now towers over me. How I want to protect her so fiercely but that I know she doesn’t need me to. She’s not a little baby anymore; she’s growing up, and doing it with the grace of an adult many years her senior. And I was thinking about my friends son. How he always refers to her friends as his own. And how he and I always joke that he is my best friend. But he’s become so much a part of my life that it really isn’t a joke.

I’m struck by the brilliance of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from these kids in the last couple of days. Time will always be a fickle little thing, won’t it? There are still going to be different dates on the calendar that send shivers up your spine, but time plays tricks on you and convinces you that we can somehow have these moments back. And because of that, I’ve feared August. I’ve feared remembering what used to be and wanting desperately to get the good back and stay as far away from the bad as possible.

I think we need to start living our lives a little bit more like kids do. They transition so seamlessly. They don’t hold onto things unless they’re important. They move on faster than we do as adults. They forgive easier. They know they are enough without ever really having to question it.

It always comes back to the subtle way the breeze gets cooler and the humidity disintegrates. It always comes back to the way the Jersey Shore sheds its summer skin and grows crisp orange leaves. It always comes back to these seasons of growth.

Because of August, it always comes back to transitions. And without transition, there would be no transformation. And what kind of life would that be?

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I Never Wanted To Be A Cliche

Someone once told me to write my truth.

“Be honest. Write your truth; no one can take that from you.”

Those words came to me nearly four years ago when I was gearing up to take on this little project. I was apprehensive. For most of my life, I’d scribbled in journals, jotted down daydreams, and made private blogs that never met the eyes of anyone I knew. Publicly opening my heart was new.

At the time, I was doing something so dangerously outside of my comfort zone, I almost felt like I needed a life jacket just to step into it. But those words of wisdom were so important to me. They are the words that remind me today that I shouldn’t worry about sugar coating it. Writing shouldn’t be about waiting for inspiration to strike, or when the positive, uplifting, and motivational messages seem to be pouring from my fingertips. Life just isn’t like that– it doesn’t come at you cropped or filtered. Life is real and raw. And writing should be real and raw. It should always be about writing what you know — it should be about your own truth.

And so, the driving force behind this little machine has been about owning up to and writing my own truth. It’s been about confessions — about getting down to the heart of the matter — the things that hurt, the things that heal, the truth.. my truth. It’s been a nearly four-year-long honesty hour.

So, I’ll be honest. I’ve been avoiding. I’ve been avoiding a lot of things – this blog, friends, acquaintances, commitments, plans. Nearly everything aside from my two closest friends, my coworkers that I see daily, and my every day responsibilities. I’ll admit that I’ve fallen a bit down the rabbit hole, but not quite all the way; I’m still hanging on.

I’ve spent the last year of my life running on a hamster wheel, desperate to get to a finish line that just wasn’t quite there. I spent hours huddled up in Starbucks studying for (and later passing) two really important exams that led to graduation, certification, and licensure. I graduated with my Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. I landed a job in the field and even progressed into a position that I thought was years away, only three months into my career. I packed up what little belongings I had and moved. I watched friends get engaged, I watched friends get married, I watched as friends pack up their things and move states away. I fought with my family, I fought with myself; I fought through some of the most challenge seasons of my adult life.

The truth is, I selfishly didn’t expect life to just keep on moving.

Being a college student was about how many nights I could spend at the local pub and still maintain a 4.0 Being a graduate student in my mid-20s was about trying to keep myself afloat– how to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, or from forgetting what day of the week it was, or trying to keep up with friends who seemed light years away. I was doing fine if I kept my head just a little bit above water. I was forced to follow a strict schedule — I was a student, working two jobs, interning, and trying to maintain relationships and some semblance of sanity. I had blinders on to the world outside of my own.

I almost naively expected time to stand still. I expected to cross that stage to get my diploma and be greeted on the other end by this world that waited three years for me to catch up. 

Moving forward has been difficult for me. I could sit here and tell you how grossly ungraceful I am at transitions, or exits, or new beginnings. I could tell you that I hate change. I could tell you that surviving the shifting of orbits doesn’t really fall onto my resume as one of my strengths. But please, name someone who is graceful at change. Name someone who is actually good at it. Tell them to come find me. Tell them to teach me how it works, cause I haven’t got a clue.

I wish I could look back on the last nine months of my life and pinpoint the exact moment when the path I was flying down started to get a little turbulent. I don’t remember when, but I do remember a coworker, who I’d interned with prior to both of us working together looked at me in the months following graduation and asked me, “What happened? You had it all together when we were in school, and now you’re literally falling apart. You’re crumbling right in front of me.”

It’s just as dramatic and funny as it sounds, but when someone you’ve worked side by side with nearly every day for the last year says something like that to you, it sticks. What the hell did happen to me?

I was struggling. I started to become a pressure cooker. I was filling myself daily because that’s what I thought I needed to do. I was making plans with people and listening to them talk about their lives and finding myself barely listening on. I was detached. I didn’t care about the matching his and her towels, or the future vacation plans, or the joint bank accounts, or the new jobs. I didn’t care about the baby planning or the wedding planning or the flavor of the week they were dating. I wanted to be present; I wanted to be supportive and attentive, but it was hard. So I rationalized by making all these plans in the hopes that one day, some of the circuits would align and it would make sense and I would somehow find myself enjoying the conversation in front of me. I was filling myself with people, and plans, and things, and going home every night and hating myself for it. I kept filling and filling, and despite overflowing, despite coming to a head and essentially bursting, I was never full.

I found that I stopped caring about things that I used to care so fiercely about before. I was losing enthusiasm for people I cared about. And it wasn’t fair to them. It wasn’t fair that I was struggling with my own stuff and to take it out on my relationships with other people, but that’s how the tape played out. I was struggling with closing the chapter of my life as a student and entering this new phase of my life: the one where I struggle to live on my own, to make it in this field, to bare the burden of some of the most beautifully broken souls I’ve ever met, and to still have to face my own realities at night.

And so, I started to avoid things.

I started protecting my heart. I stopped filling myself with things that made me heavy — the things that made me go home at night and tip over to pour right out of me. I stopped answering texts and disconnected myself from my phone. I started detaching myself from things that seemed to be just filler. Because I’m going to be honest with you: I’m just tired of it. I’m tired of things that lack substance. I’m tired of relationships built on small talk. I’m tired of friendships that aren’t meant to span a lifetime. I’m tired of feeling like I have to force a conversation– like if I don’t have something witty to say back to a random text message that doesn’t interest me in the least, I become fearful that the person on the other end is mad at me. I’m tired of feeling a little behind, like I can’t contribute to a conversation because I don’t have a mortgage, and those matching his and her towels, or plans for a baby. I stopped writing because I didn’t have anything good to write. I didn’t have anything positive. I didn’t want to be the person who whined and moaned and waited for some miracle that never came.

But I guess that’s what it’s all about, right? The truth. The not-so-pretty reality: that life isn’t perfect. That you can get everything you worked so hard for and still feel like something is missing. That you can get to a certain point in your life where some relationships aren’t serving you and you have to let them go. That you feel like an elephant is sitting on your shoulders every day, but you don’t dare tell your friends just why you don’t want to get together. Because the truth is, there isn’t a reason. You just physically can’t do it.

The truth is I always swore I would never look back.

A lot of the last nine months have been spent staring into a rear view mirror, wondering if there was anything I could have done differently — what I could have done to just hang onto the things I never wanted then, but strangely want back now. I’ve been decorating my walls in memories and moments I never thought I’d miss. I somehow planted my home right in the heart of Nostalgia Lane. I’ve been stuck here ever since.

So much of my life was about moving forward and looking towards the future. I spent years investing significant time into chipping away at what I thought was the grander picture. I spent my entire childhood desperately craving adulthood. I never planned on being the girl that missed all the things she was running from.

I’ve suddenly become that 20-something cliche.

When I was in middle school, I wanted to be in high school. I wanted a hipper hair cut, I wanted my license, better clothes, a car that I could drive with the top down. I wanted freedom. When I was in high school, all I wanted was college. That would be freedom. I wanted to live away from my family, and the house that built me. I wanted adventure and new beginnings. When I was in college, all I ever wanted was a career. I wanted a place of my own. I wanted a life I could say I proudly built with my own hands. And when I was in graduate school, I wanted to go back and have fun. I wanted time to slow down. I wanted life to stand still. I wanted the chance to have a couple do-overs.

The saddest part of growing up is this: time doesn’t stand still, no matter how hard you fight for it to. Second chances are few and far in between. You just don’t get do-overs. 

Just like grains of sand along the shoreline, you can try to gather it all in your hands, but it somehow still just slips right through your fingers. And what I would do to go back and apologize to all those all-knowing adults that stood right here, where I am today, and told me to slow down, to take it all in, to stop worrying so much, to write it all down, to remember these moments, these feelings, this laughter. To enjoy it all. I swear if I had a chance to do it over, I would take back all the times I rolled my eyes at them.

Because life comes without warning. One day, you’ll turn 18 and you’ll feel invincible — like nothing on the planet could touch you. And then you’ll turn 20; you’ll find yourself stuck between saying goodbye to being a teenager, and being so unsure of what being in your 20s even means. You’ll taste heartache and you’ll know that even though you are young, with the world right in front of you, you aren’t invincible. You’ll look back to mornings where you packed eye liner and mascara in your backpack, and ran straight to the bathroom at school to put it all on before anyone could see you. You’ll look back on the nights you spent fighting with your parents about the length of your shorts, or the cut of your shirt, or the inappropriate writing across the butt of your sweats, or the skin tight dress you absolutely had to wear to Homecoming. You’ll smile at the memories and feel a knot of pain at how far away they’ll seem. You’ll turn 22. You’ll graduate from college and you’ll look back at middle school graduation and think to yourself, “how the hell could I think that this would be better?” How did I think that facing the unknown was a hell of a lot better than being 14, and hanging out in the mall, gossiping about boys, and buying new hand sanitizers from Bath and Body Works. And one day, you’ll be 26, inching closer to 27. You’ll feel a surging rush of emotions as you walk across the stage to get your Master’s. You start a new job, you’ll struggle despite essentially having it all.

And then you’ll be 27. My God, 27 sounds a bit old, doesn’t it? Like you’re meant to have some sort of grip on who you are. But, you’ll slip down the rabbit hole just a little, and you’ll try to climb your way out of it.

Some days, I feel so incredibly guilty for looking back and pining over memories when I have wonderful things in front of me. But what I’m finding is that growing older is equal parts living and equal parts being nostalgic. It’s about small glimpses into the past and remembering what it was like being 18 and carefree and driving to the beach at night with our heads halfway out the window. It was feeling weightless. It’s about what life was like, what it’s like now, and what it could have been. It’s about looking through a lens into your past and cursing yourself for not holding onto those fleeting moments that we never knew were so important. Like sneaking out for the first time, blowing cigarette smoke off rooftops, making wishes into the starry night sky. It’s about not realizing that these small moments were actually big moments. It’s about missing moments that you had no idea would mean so much.

I think a lot of my struggles the last few months have something to do with how fiercely I cling to nostalgia like my favorite childhood blanket, in the hopes that it’ll all come back to me.

The thing is though, those memories do come back. Just not in the way I necessarily want them to.

They’ll come back to me when I am standing at the end of the aisle watching as one of my longest friends walks towards her husband-to-be and memories come flashing back about the first time we slept in tents outside, huddled around a bottle of vodka, telling stories of what we wanted for our lives. The moments will come back when you are sitting side by side an old friend and really see them for the first time. When you see how much of you is in them and vice versa. And how different would your life be had they not been there for all of the big things: for high school, college, and graduate school graduation. For all the times your family broke your heart and the times that the boy who they never approved of, came back and drove right over it, as if almost knowing you needed your heart to survive. Moments of the past will come back when you look at your beautiful baby sister and realize she is not a baby anymore. Not even close. It’ll be in saying goodbye to friends you grew up with and hoping and praying that living states apart won’t change a thing, but all the while knowing that it changes everything. And when these moments do come back, I’m learning that it’s all okay.

What I’ve found in my little hiatus from the world is this: maybe it’s okay to be a cliche. Maybe it’s okay to be just like any other 20 something millennial struggling to get by. Maybe it’s okay to say yes to guacamole on your burrito, even if you can barely afford your student loans. Maybe it’s okay to say no to plans because you need time to yourself to decompress. Maybe it’s okay to distance yourself from people. Maybe it’s okay to feel like you’re missing something. Maybe it’s okay to still not know what you want, to still not be engaged, or married, or have a kid on the way. Maybe it’s okay to be 27 and still renting, without having even let the thought of a mortgage cross your mind. It’s okay to be a 20 something cliche. In the end, it’s all okay. It will all be okay.